Teachers are being forced to remove messages of support for transgender students, and are being fired or choosing to quit as Republicans push anti-trans and anti-gay rhetoric and legislation across the country.
Last week—the day after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill that’s become known as “Don’t Say Gay” into state law—a teacher in St. John’s County was forced to change out of a shirt that said “Protect trans kids” after a parent complained, the St. Augustine Record reported.
A spokesperson for the St. John’s County School District, 40 miles south of Jacksonville, said that after a teacher at Tocoi Creek High School wore the shirt to school, a parent “expressed concern” and sent a picture to the school’s principal. No disciplinary action was taken against the teacher, the spokesperson said, but the teacher was given another shirt to wear.
An Ohio substitute teacher who is gay also told a CNN affiliate last week he was fired for handing out Pride bracelets to students. “If a kid has questions, if a kid wants honesty, I don’t think I should be forbidden from providing that,” the teacher, Jay Bowman, told WSYX last week.
The Huntington Local School District told WSYX that Bowman admitted “he violated board policies by speaking to students about political and religious topics, as well as distributing bracelets,” and that as a result the district “decided his services as a substitute would no longer be utilized.”
The incident comes as Republican-led states escalate their suppression of LGBTQ youth and the teachers and families who support them. In the past year, a dozen states have passed bills banning transgender girls from girls’ athletics, several have banned gender-affirming healthcare for transgender youth, and Arizona is considering legislation that would open teachers up to lawsuits if they don’t out transgender students to their parents.
The “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida bans classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity through the third grade, but LGBTQ advocates say the intent is to keep students in the closet. Gov. DeSantis last week called criticism of the bill “sloganeering and fake narratives by leftist politicians, by activists, by corporate media.”
Several LGBTQ teachers in Florida have decided to leave their jobs as a result of the panic stirred by right-wing activists and the recently passed law, NBC News reported Friday. A group of parents asked that sixth-grade science teacher Robert Thollander face “consequences” after he told students at his Orlando-area school he was getting married to a man.
The letter said that for Thollander—who told NBC News he only told students he was getting married when they asked—to “discuss the details and create an uncomfortable situation for the students with no benefit to teaching his subject matter is inappropriate.”
“It makes it seem like being gay is something vile or disturbing or disgusting when it’s described as making children uncomfortable knowing that I’m married to a man,” Thollander told NBC News. “It hurt.”
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